And with this, the startling run of Steven Spielberg duds continues. After delivering two of the dullest movies of his career (Lincoln, Bridge of Spies) Spielberg does the almost impossible; he makes Roald Dahl completely boring. Oscar-winner Mark Rylance delivers a motion-capture CGI performance as the central character, the Big Friendly Giant, that results in more yawns than smiles. His giant captures dreams and blows them into the sleeping residents of London. On one of his excursions, he kidnaps Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), and takes her to the land of giants, where most giants are meat eaters. Luckily, he’s a vegetarian, but he’s being bullied by a group of bad giants led by Jemaine Clement in the film’s most fun motion-capture performance. Despite a winning performance from Barnhill, a true star in the making, the film drags on and on, trying to get by on big special effects rather than an engaging story. Everything feels a little off for Spielberg. A visit to the Queen’s house, which should be bizarrely funny and subversive, winds up feeling awkward and uncomfortable. The whole movie seems to be playing it safe in Dahl land, as if it is E.T. in Dahl land, and it throws the tone completely off. It doesn’t help that John Williams rips off his own E.T. score. It never clicks. Nothing really works, yet again, for Spielberg, a director who seems to have momentarily lost his mojo. Hey, Spielberg is responsible for some of the greatest movies ever made. If he makes stinkers for the rest of his life, he’s still one of the most amazing men to sit in the director’s chair. That said, here’s to hoping for a return to form with one of his next ventures, which allegedly include another crack at Indiana Jones. This is most definitely one of the year’s bigger disappointments.
3 Free State of JonesNewton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a Confederate army medic, decides he’s had enough and deserts. He returns to Mississippi where his people are being harassed by looting soldiers. He winds up in the swamps with escaped slaves where they form a pact, and eventually create a militia to rebel against the Confederacy. Based on a true story, director Gary Ross definitely delivers on the brutality and terrors of the Civil War. McConaughey is powerful in the central role, as is Mahershala Ali as Moses, leader of the escaped slaves. The film stumbles a bit in trying to do a too much. There are courtroom scenes 85 years after the Civil War’s where a relative of Knight is in a civil rights dispute. These scenes feel completely out of place, and they sort of muck up the film’s ending (things just come to an awkward stop). It’s too bad, because the movie winds up being good instead of great. The battle scenes are harrowing, the tensions are frightening and real, and there’s not a bad performance in the lot. Yet, because Ross has overstuffed the film, aspects like the rise of the KKK are almost glossed over. This project, with its dual storylines and many plot points, probably would’ve worked better as an extended series on HBO rather than a single big budget movie. Still, it’s worth seeing for McConaughey and Ali.
1 Independence Day: ResurgenceI enjoyed the goofy, funny, balls-out alien invasion movie that was Independence Day (1996). The film was dumber than a stoned golden retriever in a Harvard calculus class, but Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and, yes, Randy Quaid made the grandiose stupidity somewhat of a blast. Two decades after the original, Independence Day: Resurgence finally arrives, without Smith, who probably didn’t think the check was big enough. While the original was a stupid blast, the sequel is the equivalent of a nasty two-hour alien fart. Goldblum, Bill Pullman and Brent Spiner return for alien nonsense that is fast paced yet dull, and utterly void of laughs. It’s evident in the first 10 minutes that the movie will somehow manage to be lethargic even though the editing is frantic, and lots of things are exploding. Returning director Roland Emmerich is clearly not on his disaster-epic game. It’s a wasteful effort, where camp has been replaced by total ineptitude, and the performers look lost. And, let’s face it, Liam Hemsworth is no Will Smith. Hell, Liam Hemsworth is no Carrot Top. He’s a dud, the movie’s a dud, and the franchise needs to stop now. Yes, the film calls for a sequel at the end, but Emmerich needs to move on to other things.